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A key congressman who oversees Navy programs on Capitol Hill is threatening to recommend against funding development of a new ballistic missile submarine if the service doesn't fork over its analysis of the program.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the House Seapower subcommittee, complained in a letter sent Thursday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the Navy "refuses to share" the analysis of alternatives (AoA) for the SSBN(X) program — a document that, Taylor says in the letter, was completed last year.
Rather than commit to replacing the current crop of large Ohio-class submarines armed with Trident II D5 ballistic missiles with similar ships, Taylor wants to see what a smaller, Virginia-class submarine armed with a less-lethal ballistic missile would cost. Instead, he says, the Navy already has decided it wants the bigger and more expensive ships — which some sources say could cost as much as $70 billion.
"I have repeatedly asked officials of the Department of the Navy if less-expensive alternatives to building the Ohio-class were examined," Taylor said in the letter. "I have repeatedly been told that only the Trident solution met the requirement."
The Navy's refusal to share the AoA with Congress, Taylor said, "is under the guise that final approval has not been obtained."
Yet, he pointed out, $495 million was spent last year to develop a missile compartment "that would only support a Trident II D5 weapon" — and the Navy is asking for an additional $672 million this year "to continue development of an exclusive Trident replacement vessel."
As a result, Taylor threatened to work against the Navy's SSBN(X) request unless the AoA is sent to Congress, along with an explanation for how much nuclear deterrent capability the nation needs.
Taylor asked Gates to "direct the Secretary of the Navy to deliver to me the completed AoA for this program notwithstanding any final approvals from other officials in the Department of Defense."
Additionally, Taylor said in the letter that he would ask House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., for a "thorough investigation" of how the SSBN(X) program "apparently bypassed acquisition requirements" and already began system design and development, and ask for a full committee hearing "to determine the true national requirement for sea-based nuclear deterrence."
The letter comes as Taylor's committee is preparing its markup of the 2011 defense authorization bill, expected to take place in mid-May.